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Arjun Appadurai
Arjun Appadurai, 2009 (cropped).jpg
Appadurai during a lecture in March 2009
Born 1949 (age 73–74)
Alma mater Brandeis University (B.A.)
University of Chicago (M.A., Ph.D.)
Scientific career
Fields Anthropology
Institutions New York University
The New School
University of Pennsylvania

Arjun Appadurai (born 1949) is an Indian-American anthropologist recognized as a major theorist in globalization studies. In his anthropological work, he discusses the importance of the modernity of nation states and globalization. He is the former University of Chicago professor of anthropology and South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Humanities Dean of the University of Chicago, director of the city center and globalization at Yale University, and the Education and Human Development Studies professor at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture.

Some of his most important works include Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule (1981), Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy (1990), of which an expanded version is found in Modernity at Large (1996), and Fear of Small Numbers (2006). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.

Early life

Appadurai was born in 1949, into a Tamil family in Mumbai (Bombay), India and educated in India. He graduated from St. Xavier's High School, Fort, Mumbai, and earned his Intermediate Arts degree from Elphinstone College, Mumbai, before moving to the United States. He then received his B.A. from Brandeis University in 1970.


He was formerly a professor at the University of Chicago where he received his M.A. (1973) and Ph.D (1976) in Anthropology. After working there, he spent a brief time at Yale.

University of Pennsylvania

Appadurai taught for many years at the University of Pennsylvania, in the departments of Anthropology and South Asia Studies. During his years at Penn, in 1984, he hosted a conference through the Penn Ethnohistory program; this conference led to the publication of the volume called The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (1986). Later he joined the faculty at the New School University. He currently is a faculty member of New York University's Media Culture and Communication department in the Steinhardt School.


Some of his most important works include Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule (1981), Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy (1990), of which an expanded version is found in Modernity at Large (1996), and Fear of Small Numbers (2006). In The Social Life of Things (1986), Appadurai argued that commodities do not only have economic value; they have political value and social lives as well. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.

His doctoral work was based on the car festival held in the Parthasarathi temple in Triplicane, Madras. Arjun Appadurai is member of the Advisory Board of the Forum d'Avignon, international meetings of culture, the economy and the media. He is also an advisory member of the journal Janus Unbound: Journal of Critical Studies.

New School

In 2004, after a brief time as administrator at Yale University, Appadurai became Provost of New School University. Appadurai's resignation from the Provost's office was announced 30 January 2006 by New School President Bob Kerrey. He held the John Dewey Distinguished Professorship in the Social Sciences at New School. Appadurai became one of the more outspoken critics of President Kerrey when he attempted to appoint himself provost in 2008.

New York University

In 2008 it was announced that Appadurai was appointed Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Appadurai retired as emeritus from the department in 2021.

Bard Graduate Center

In 2021, Appadurai was appointed Max Weber Global Professor at the Bard Graduate Center, though he is based in Berlin and teaches remotely.


Appadurai is a co-founder of the academic journal Public Culture; founder of the non-profit Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR) in Mumbai; co-founder and co-director of Interdisciplinary Network on Globalization (ING); and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as a consultant or advisor to a wide range of public and private organizations, including the Ford, Rockefeller and MacArthur foundations; UNESCO; the World Bank; and the National Science Foundation.

Appadurai has presided over Chicago globalization plan, at many public and private organizations (such as the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, UNESCO, the World Bank, etc.) consultant and long-term concern issues of globalization, modernity and ethnic conflicts.

Appadurai held many scholarships and grants, and has received numerous academic honors, including the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (California) and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, as well as individual research fellowship from the Open Society Institute (New York). He was elected Arts and Sciences in 1997, the American Academy of Sciences. In 2013, he was awarded an honorary doctorate Erasmus University in the Netherlands. He holds concurrent academic positions as a Mercator Fellow, Free University and Humboldt University, Berlin; Honorary Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University, Rotterdam; and Senior Research Partner at the Max-Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen.

He also served as a consultant or adviser, extensive public and private organizations, including many large foundations (Ford, MacArthur and Rockefeller); the UNESCO; UNDP; World Bank; the US National Endowment for the Humanities; National Science Foundation; and Infosys Foundation. He served on the Social Sciences jury for the Infosys Prize in 2010 and 2017. He currently serves as the Asian Art Program Advisory Committee members in the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, and the forum D 'Avignon Paris Scientific Advisory Board.


In his best known work 'Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy' Appadurai lays out his meta theory of disjuncture. For him the ‘new global cultural economy has to be seen as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order’. This order is composed of different interrelated, yet disjunctive global cultural flows, specifically the following five:

  1. ethnoscapes; the migration of people across cultures and borders
  2. mediascapes; the variety of media that shape the way we understand our world
  3. technoscapes; the scope and movement of technology (mechanical and informational) around the world
  4. financescapes; the worldwide flux of money and capital
  5. ideoscapes; the global flow of ideas and ideologies

The social imaginary

Appadurai articulated a view of cultural activity known as the social imaginary, which is composed of the five dimensions of global cultural flows.

Appadurai credits Benedict Anderson with developing notions of imagined communities. Some key figures who have worked on the imaginary are Cornelius Castoriadis, Charles Taylor, Jacques Lacan (who especially worked on the symbolic, in contrast with imaginary and the real), and Dilip Gaonkar. However, Appadurai's ethnography of urban social movements in the city of Mumbai has proved to be contentious with several scholars like the Canadian anthropologist, Judith Whitehead arguing that SPARC (an organization which Appadurai espouses as an instance of progressive social activism in housing) being complicit in the World Bank's agenda for re-developing Mumbai.

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